Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Gift Giving Guide

It’s that time of the year again – here in Canada our Santa Claus Parades are happening, our houses and malls are decorated for Christmas and, in the United States, we are just a mere two days away from Thanksgiving, football, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our malls are packed, our thoughts have turned to holiday cards, parties, family dinners and what to buy for whom. For those of us who aren’t quite sure what to buy for the boss, the neighbor, and the person in our family that has “absolutely everything” here are a few suggestions that may spark your imagination…


This time of the year is all about celebrating – Christmas, family get togethers, ringing in the New Year – so it isn’t too surprising that this is the time of year that sales of Champagne (or other sparkling wines) go through the roof. For the longest time, I have always been a fan of Moet Chandon and its California version but a friend of mine had me try Piper-Hiedsieck this past weekend at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show in Toronto and I knew it had to be the Champagne of choice for this year’s celebrations.

Piper-Hiedsieck Brut Champagne
CSPC # 462432, Available at a wide range of LCBO stores
$49.95 per bottle

Now, not everyone enjoys Champagne – some of them cause headaches, some are too dry – so I always try to have a sparkling wine from Ontario as a nice alternative. This year’s Ontario Sparkling of choice comes from The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery. One of only three sparkling wines that come from Prince Edward County, and the most recent release, this inaugural version of sparkling wine is crisp, clean and truly refreshing. It’s only available at the winery and it is bound to move quickly so get in touch with the winery quickly to order yours or make a trip to their tasting room.

The Grange of Prince Edward 2007 Brut VQA
Available exclusively at the winery, Released on November 21st
$29.95 per bottle

Normally, when recommending wines at this time of the year, I tend to stick to sparkling wine and Icewine. To me, they fit the celebratory mood of the season best and that is what I like to focus on. However, this year, while at Gourmet Food and Wine Show, I found a 13 year old white wine that just amazed me enough that I feel it needs a mention here. When you see a bottle of wine that is this old, our brains just automatically think that it should be rather pricey. This one is under $15 and is one of the best aged German Rieslings I have ever come across. Amazingly, there is still quite a few available throughout Ontario but I would recommend you pick up a few bottles quickly.

Balthasar Ress Oestricher Riesling QbA Rheingau 1996, Stefan B Ress
CSPC #142299, Available at a wide range of LCBO stores
$14.95 per bottle

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a little bit of sweet decadence to finish off the evening. If you are not big into the sweet desserts then might I suggest a glass of Icewine. Pillitteri Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the largest estate producer of Icewine in Canada and they do not always make their Chardonnay Icewine. It doesn’t surprise me that they chose the 2007 vintage as the year to “re-introduce” this unique Icewine as the 2007 vintage has been proclaimed to be the best vintage Ontario will have this decade. Be sure to pick up a couple of bottles of this Icewine before it disappears – and it will disappear…

Pillitteri Estates Winery 2007 Chardonnay Icewine
Available exclusively at the winery
$35.10 per bottle


Not everyone likes Icewine – it tends to be a little too sweet for some people – but with this book, there is a nice alternative to that unfinished bottle of Icewine than allowing the wine to oxidize and go bad. Along with an extensive history of Icewine production, there is a large section of recipes that incorporate Icewine in thus allowing you to use up the unfinished bottle and try some new foods.

Icewine: Extreme Winemaking
By Donald Ziraldo & Karl Kaiser
Published by Key Porter Books, Available at Chapters
Online Price: $33.00 per book


Why not try out some of these ideas for gifts? I have a couple of people on my list who definitely fit into this category and when I need an alternative, I always seem to find them in the gift pack section of my local LCBO store.

Armagnac de Montal VSOP
CSPC #618496, Available at a wide range of LCBO stores
$49.95 per bottle

Forty Creek Barrel Select Gift Pack
CSPC #603688, Available at a wide range of LCBO stores
$29.95 per gift pack


I have never been much of a gadget person but over the years, a couple of friends have given me wine gadgets that have been very interesting. If you’re going to drink wine, at least 75% of the time you need a corkscrew. There are many out there and it is definitely an area of wine gadgets that can be rather confusing but one I keep going back to for people who are not comfortable with the type of corkscrews that servers use in restaurants is The Rabbit (or a similar style)…

The Rabbit – Silver
Available at The Wine Establishment
$60.00 each

Given the size of most Champagne bottles, and the small amount of champagne that people like to drink, a stopper for a partially filled bottle of bubbly is definitely a good thing to have on hand for those holiday festivities. Traditional wine stoppers WILL NOT work in this case – the amount of pressure still inside the bottle and the amount of bubbles remaining even after a bottle is half emptied is still enough to pop a traditional wine stopper out of the neck of the bottle. Believe me – I speak from experience on this one – when I say that is one mess you DO NOT want to clean up inside your fridge. The type of stopper mentioned below is designed to seal the champagne bottle since there’s no way you are going to be able to put the cork back into the neck.

Trudeau Champagne Stopper
Available at The Wine Establishment
$9.95 each

Have you heard the old adage that white wine is served chilled and red wine at room temperature – it’s WRONG! That was set up as a general rule thousands and thousands of years ago when refrigeration did not exist and people lived within a certain area within the world where, basically, extreme temperatures did not exist. The Wine Watch Thermometer takes all the guess work out of serving wine at the proper temperature and even has a set of stickers on the back that shows you the correct serving temperature – in both Celsius and Fahrenheit – for Reds, Rose’s, Whites and Champagnes. In the case of Icewine, my personal preference is to serve it at the White wine temperature but even as low as the Champagne temperature. If I were to say I had a favourite wine gadget – my Wine Watch Thermometer would be it.

Wine Watch Thermometer
Available at The Wine Establishment
$19.95 each


If you were to ask me what line of glassware I have in my collection – aside from the leaded crystal stemware I inherited from my grandparents – I would tell you in a heartbeat that it is Spiegelau. The company is a part of Riedel Glass Works which makes the high end stemware designed to enhance specific wines in specific glasses and the premise has been transferred to the Spiegelau division at a more reasonable price. Below is just a sampling of my favourite glasses from Spiegelau but there are many, many more to choose from.

By the way, if you are not able to make it to The Wine Establishment or do not like to order online, Spiegelau is also available at a variety of places that sell china and stemware.

#01 VG Spiegelau Red/White Wine 15 oz.
Available at The Wine Establishment
$15.00 each or 6 for $75.00

#00 VG Spiegelau Balloon 25 oz.
Available at The Wine Establishment
$15.00 each or 6 for $75.00

#29 VG Spiegelau Champagne Flute 9 ½ oz.
Available at The Wine Establishment
$12.50 each

Spiegelau Cremona Burgundy Box of 4
Available at The Wine Establishment
$30.00 per box

Spiegelau Cremona Bordeaux Box of 4
Available at The Wine Establishment
$30.00 per box

Peugeot Variation Decanter
Available at The Wine Establishment
$100.00 per decanter

Nachtmann Decanter with Handle #2887
Available at The Wine Establishment
$99.95 per decanter

Happy Holidays everyone...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Torrontes: Argentina’s Unknown White Grape

There are many wine writers around the world who have discovered the intricacies of the Torrontes grape. This wine is very far from being a traditional white but it is that uniqueness that draws us to it and, hopefully, will draw you to it as well. In North America, names like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and even Gewurztraminer are common names to see on the shelves of our local wine shops. Despite the number of articles from people like Jancis Robinson, David Lawrason and many, many more, Torrontes is still a largely unheard of grape that the average consumer has heard very little of. Just out of curiosity, I decided to do a search on the LCBO website to see how many different Torrontes wines were available through them since that is the only source for international wines in Ontario. The results: I could count the number of wines on my two hands and still have fingers left over. The thing is that with a selling price of less than $15 a bottle in most cases (one of them was $16.95 a bottle), any of these wines could fit into the great value category but if no one knows that they exist and how interesting the taste is to these wines, they may as well be $100 a bottle.

I don’t normally do this when preparing to write a blog but I decided this time around to ask on my Facebook page “What do you know about Torrontes?” The answers were interesting…

“I know I love it when it’s good, hate it when it’s bad!! Tasted on recently from Emilia Romani which was stellar. A different expression than that in Argentina, but beautiful nonetheless.”

“Torrontes is best when grown in higher altitudes (in Argentina) and fermented and aged in stainless steel. I find that too much oak can actually kill this wine. It is originally from Spain -= Galician variety grown in fairly large quantities in the Alicante and Yecla regions. However it is also considered one of the original in Argentina and I would put it up there with their finest exhibits of their best along with Carmenere and Malbec…my three favourites of the Country. Seriously wish we could bet more Torrontes here ;-)”

Now, both of these people work in the wine industry with me so they have had the opportunity to try a wide variety of wines from around the world so for them to say they like Torrontes and wish there were more available up here in Canada certainly indicates to me that this is a grape that should get some attention in the hopes that the general consumer may fall in love with this very unique and different tasting white wine.

Okay, so I have been going on and on about how this wine is unique and different tasting so I am sure you are wondering why I am saying that. You see, the aromas to all of the Torrontes wines I tasted this week had a slight citrus, tropical fruit component to it but the flavours were very different from the aromas. Initially I thought it was a creamy texture that is normally associated with an oaked Chardonnay but that just did not seem right so, upon further examination, I realized that the mouthfeel of these wines had a more soapy, lanolin, oily texture to it than creaminess. Now, I know that none of those flavours sound appealing to many people but, in these wines, the wineries seem to have found a way to make this taste appealing and balance in with the fruit flavours and smokiness that is still present. Honestly, if it is able to disguise itself as a cross between Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and a lightly oaked Chardonnay, which pairs wonderfully with pasta and chicken and turkey just to name a few, I think Torrontes should be a viable alternative in our market. Here are a few of my picks from the Argentinean tasting this week. Enjoy…

Vinas de Altura Rio Seco Torrontes 2009
$9.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Pleasant, fruity aroma – mostly grapefruit and pineapple – that follows into the flavours. There is a slightly oily texture to the wine but not overpoweringly so. Overall, a very pleasant drinking wine that could be paired with most of your weekday dinners or enjoyed on its own.

Vinas de Altura Rio Seco Reserva Torrontes 2009
$13.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Take the previous Torrontes (the non-reserve one) and amplify the aromas and flavours. That’s what you have when you taste and smell this wine. More fruit, more soapy, glycerin mouthfeel, more smoke and more floral on this wine. Just a kicked up version of their entry level wine and just as tasty as the original.

Vinas de Altura Gamela Reserva Torrontes 2009
$26.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Out of the three from Vinas de Altura, this wine is the one that takes a slightly different direction. The aromas and flavours are basically the same but they vary in comparison to the previous two. This wine has an overabundant fruity, floral aroma to it which is rather distinctive. While there is a slight soapy, glycerin mouthfeel to this wine, the flavours are mostly smoke and tropical fruit. This was probably one of the most interesting Torrontes in the room that day.

Rutini Wines Trumpeter Reserve Torrontes 2008
$16.95 a bottle
Available through Profile Wine Group (aquagliozzi@profilewinegroup.com)
This winery is closer to the ocean and slightly further south than Vinas de Altura which, in South America, actually translates into a cooler climate – it is closer to Antarctica than the Equator. As a result, this wine has more of the smoky flavour to it than the soapy, glycerin mouthfeel that the others have had at this point. The fruity, floral aromas are still ever present and they do continue on to the palate but the smoky flavour is the major player in this wine.

Trivento Tribu Torrontes 2009
$8.95 a bottle
Available through Select Wines (haddleton@selectwines.ca)
This was probably one of my favourite wines of the day. It has a very powerful aroma of floral (roses and violets), stone fruit and slight citrus fruit. The flavours are equally powerful with a slightly oily texture and a major backbone of fruit. This is the only wine I described through this day as YUMMY!

Nieto Senetiner Reserva Torrontes 2009
$12.95 per bottle
Available through Cipelli Wines and Spirits (dpancer.cipelli@bellnet.ca)
The last Torrontes in the room this day and what a way to end a day with! More of tropical fruit and floral aromas I have already experienced this day, this wine has more of the fruity, floral flavours than the oily texture than some of the previous wines had. If the sounds of the soapy, glycerin mouthfeel really turn you off of trying this wine, I recommend trying this one as it is not quite forceful with this one.

So, when you are looking to try a wine that is completely different from your standard Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, why not pick up a bottle or two of Argentinean Torrontes? The unique flavour profile is one that will keep you coming back over and over for more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Viñedos Emiliana: consciously organic, unconsciously world class

As a career wine professional, I’ve always approached every new wine the same way: by, first, suspending disbelief and preconceptions when looking at it in the glass, and then asking, does it taste good… are the aromas fresh, clean and compelling… the flavors rich, balanced, fine and elegant… or are they the opposite – dull, bland, rough or lean?

That’s it. No real science, except for the application of what Michael Broadbent calls a personal taste memory; mine's, accumulated over thirty-plus years of judging, buying, selling, writing about, and of course, enjoying wine.

Over the past year and a half I have been focusing on wines grown organically. Why? Because I believe that our lives hang in an ecological balance that demands proactivity; and covering and publicizing green wines is the best way I know how to contribute to that. We all do best what we love most.

The good thing about this is that not coincidentally, the wines I have always loved most are those grown and produced as naturally as possible. I happen to like wines that give off primordial scents, throw a little dirt on you, grab you by the collar and shake you around a little bit, before tossing you on the floor to roll around with pleasure. So hyping natural, green wines is an easy thing for me to do.

Still, the first duty of every wine, whether grown organically or not, is to taste good – or better yet, great – which is precisely what I was looking for when tasting the wines of Chile’s leading producer of organically and biodynamically farmed wines, Viñedos Emiliana. The first wine by Emiliana that I tasted, for instance, was the 2008 Emiliana NOVAS Limited Selection Chardonnay (about $17), from an IMO certified vineyard in Casablanca Valley, which I found to be lemony scented, rather puckery tart, narrow in flavor and hard in its dryness, almost exasperated by a food match of a fat, juicy roasted chicken. Ergo: if for puckery chardonnay you pine, cool; if not, best to move on.

On the other hand, I was quite taken by the second Emiliana white tasted: the 2008 Emiliana Natura Gewürztraminer (about $11), from Chile’s Valle Cachapoal, with its low-key yet rose petal-fresh, lychee-like fragrance and gentle, fruit-forward flavors balanced by a whisper of sweetness. And the fact that this wine is farmed 100% without chemicals? Makes it all the sweeter… just think walnut-pear salad in a mild Gorgonzola vinaigrette, a honey roasted chicken, or another roaster stuffed with red and green chile peppered rice.

But where Viñedos Emiliana really shines is in its red wine program; which comes as no surprise, considering that the winery and its estate vineyards (a staggering 3,080 acres in all) was founded in 1986 by José Guilisasti, a scion of the family that owns and operates Concha y Toro – arguably, Chile’s best known winery, long famed for its cabernet sauvignons, and in fact, one of the ten largest wine companies in the world.

According to Emiliana’s chief winemaker, Antonio Bravo (while passing through Colorado last month, November 2009), the reason for the founder’s commitment to sustainable, organic, and, most recently, Biodynamic® viticulture is social responsibility, pure and simple, in connection to a consciousness of the fact that today’s generation are but custodians of vineyards that will be owned and operated by future generations.

Guilisasti’s business philosophy, according to Bravo, “is based upon three pillars: profitability, respect for our workers, and respect for our natural resources.” All told, this profit oriented, yet chemical-free vineyard operation is by far the largest, most ambitious in the world. And when talking about what convinced him about Guiolisasti’s approach, Bravo echoes the sentiment of Napa Valley’s John Williams, the Fetzers in Mendocino, and other organic vignerons around the world in saying, with unconscious aplomb, that “organic methods lead to healthier soils, a healthier environment for the workers, and ultimately healthier grapes… and healthier grapes make better wine.”

So is Viñedos Emiliana making Chile’s best wines? I wouldn’t go so far; but pound for pound, and price per ounce, these three red wines are among the finest that I’ve tasted from this oft-underachieving wine producing country:

2007 Emiliana NOVAS Carménère/Cabernet Sauvignon (Valle de Colchagua; about $17) – Black purplish color; rich, chile spiced sweet berry fruit aroma; fleshy medium-full body filled out by firm tannin, with the generous, sweet berry flavors wrapped in toasty/smoky oak and the spiced nuances emanating from a plump, round center. Over lunch with Bravo, an absolutely seamless match with a mildly peppery arugula salad, tossed with Parmigiano, pine nuts and a soft, winey vinaigrette.

2006 Emiliana, COYAM (Valle de Colchagua; about $25) – The husky, no-less-sizeable “little” brother to Emiliana’s crème de la crème bottling, called Gê; and like the Gê, superbly crafted to express the character of the Los Robles Vineyard, the heart and soul of the Emiliana plantings, rather than any one or two grape varieties. Composed of syrah (34%), merlot (31%), carménère (17%), cabernet sauvignon (12%), malbec (3%) and mourvèdre (3%), COYAM is biodynamically farmed, and bottled unfined and unfiltered (in the latter sense, also qualifying as vegan). As it were, the dominance of syrah seems to give this wine its wild, meaty quality; the carménère a pungent, peppery, almost chile spiced aroma; the cabernet sauvignon, a blackberryish, almost cassis/liqueur-like, tannin laden concentration, rounded by the velvet, textural richness of merlot and malbec. Even for an Andy and an Abe, you get more than your money’s worth in this world class bottling.

2005 Emiliana, Gê (Valle de Colchagua; about $75) – Given a Greek name (Gê) for “earth,” this is a super-powered blend of two spice varieties – carménère and syrah (30% each) – buttressed by cabernet sauvignon (24%) and merlot (16%). It is also the first South American wine to be grown by certified Biodynamic® standards (although the Demeter seal does not appear on the label until Emiliana’s 2006 bottlings). The nose is tight yet hugely concentrated, suggesting blackberry, dried plum/fig, and, unmistakenly, a smoky cigarbox. On the palate, thick, musclebound, velvet textures burst at the seams with smoky, juicy, black and blue fruit sensations which only seem to broaden with a match like gamey lamb with rosemary potatoes (which, in fact, was what Bravo and I enjoyed with the COYAM and the Gê).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A dude's Thanksgiving (wines for turkeys)

It's time to ruminate on wines and turkey. From the perspective of undoubtedly many a wine professional – spending Thanksgivings at tables with as many as a dozen different bottles of wine at a time (the most ever for me: some five dozen bottles shared with Greg and Gary Butch’s families at their restaurant, Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah... thanks, boys!) – I think I can do this.

But first, about our quarry:

• In kindergarten we learn that turkey is a native American bird that Pilgrims hunted with oft-times depicted (and oft-times erratic), flaired blunderbusses (precursors to the shotgun – imagine the damage Dick Cheney could do with that). As new parents joyfully discover to this day, turkeys are also kids’ favorite things to draw (just trace spread fingers, add feet, and color to your heart’s content).

• A large percentage of 16th century Europeans, when first presented with the North American turkey, thought it of eastern origin (or else, they thought America was part of Asia). Thus the French called it coq d’Inde (the “cock of India”); which, maddeningly enough, they do to this day. Good reason, I suppose, to boycott French wine every Thanksgiving (not...).

• Even before the first Jamestown Thanksgiving (circa 1620), the turkey was a favorite of European nobility. In 1549, for instance, Catherine de’ Medici served 66 of them in one feast. Considering her historical influence on French cuisine, it’s a wonder that a later monarch didn’t say les laisser manger coq d’Inde.

So considering the longstanding Italian and French connection, I suppose that wine lovers have been pondering the question for some time: what wine with turkey? A few years ago some of our hipper friends were tooling around with deep fried Cajun recipes (d’Inde frite, as Paul Prudhomme maddeningly calls it), involving 12 gallon pots (more like industrial drums) filled with sizzling lard or something more polyunsaturated. For safety reasons I think you should consult The Prudhomme Family Cookbook before proceeding further.

But what wine with a ten to twenty pound fryer? Well, if you’re a Prudhomme you might say that it doesn’t matter as long as it’s served in a wide mouthed mason jar (when K-Paul’s in New Orleans first opened house wines were served like that). But if you happen to live in the swampy Southeast, or a place perpetually sunny like Texas, Southern California or Hawai`i, I suggest correctly stemmed wine glasses filled with something white, cool and refreshingly fruity like a riesling from Germany; or perhaps better yet, an American style riesling like that of Washington's Pacific Rim and Oregon's Chehalem. Crispy fried skins practically scream for crispy white wines; and besides, cooking out in the open air (deep frying turkey under cover is an invitation to local fire departments) can sometimes work you up a sweat, so no-fuss, light and easy rieslings make all the sense in the world.

Riesling with deep fried turkey may be a gau-ron-tee (in the words of Justin Wilson), but what wine with turkey stuffed with the traditional croutons, sage and other herbs? After all these years (and I hate to break this to my hipper friends), I have to say that the best match for saged bread stuffed turkey is the traditional, super-oaked, big, bouncy California chardonnay.

So you “hate” chardonnay? Get over it. It doesn’t have to be uncool. Neyers Vineyards, for instance, makes classically balanced, creamy oaked chardonnays that are just as cool as any wine. I’m also partial to the California chardonnays by Tandem (owned by Greg La Follette, original winemaker and architect of Flowers), Au Bon Climat (by the incroyable Jim Clendenen), DuNah, Porter-Bass, Dutton-Goldfield, Ramey, Roessler, Keller, Patz & Hall, Mer Soleil, d'Alfonso-Curran, and Babcock, not to mention those of Ken Wright and Woodward Canyon from Washington. Dudes, these chards abide: all lovingly barrel fermented the way it's supposed to be done (if you respect the original Burgundian methodology), giving the richly textured (and yes, smoky-charred) qualities that embellish the taste of herbs and roasted flavors in the skin and natural gravy of traditional turkeys. And if the turkey is roasted in a charcoal grill or hibachi, even more so a match for good ol' smoke-of-oak American chardonnay.

Have you heard of Marcelle Bienvenu’s paen to South Louisiana cooking, Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux? Check out her oyster-rice dressing, complete with chicken livers and gizzards. Stuff your turkey in similar fashion, sprinkle some chili flakes over the skin. Start at 425 F. at midnight, take it down to 300 F. and let it crisp up all night long; rest it in the morning, and dish it out at noon.

The perfect vinous foil for the Bienvenu turkey? Here, I go for something a little lighter, but no less flavorful, than a chardonnay: pinot gris, bay-by (in the fall we all start talking like Dick Vitale). I’m talking about lush, creamy textured styles of pinot gris with just enough acidity to titillate the taste of an oyster stuffing: those of California’s Babcock, Handley and J immediately come to mind; and from Oregon, those of WillaKenzie, Soleña, Cristom and King Estate (including King's new, lower priced Acrobat pinot gris) absolutely rule. What the hey, you can do almost as good with pinot grigio from Italy (if it’s by Zenato, Tiefenbrunner, Kris, Lageder or Felluga); or from Alsace, France (if you’ve also forgiven the French, the Pinot Gris bottlings of Ostertag, Deiss, Weinbach or Zind-Humbrecht).

Then there is any one of the even more richly stuffed styles of turkeys: like cornbread with chile peppers (or ham hocks or collards), wild rice with wild mushrooms (or truffles, for the congenitally spendthrift), or with assertive breads like sourdough and brioche (mixed with lardons, celery, combinations of chervil, sorrel, tarragon, etc.). This is where red wines become the higher percentage match, although I say this with the eternal caveat: turkey can be a dry bird, and so red wine choices probably need to be lighter in (potentially) palate drying tannin. This means that you’re better off with gentle, soft tannin reds like Beaujolais from France (look for grand cru bottlings, like those of Morgon, Chiroubles or Moulin-à-Vent) or anything made from pinot noir, as opposed to more palate-jarring reds like those made from the cabernet sauvignon or merlot grapes.

California zinfandel and syrah (a.k.a. shiraz) can be robust with tannin, but I say they have the advantage over cabernets and merlots with richly stuffed turkeys because of their sweet toned, often jammy fruitiness (particularly good when you mix in the inevitable cranberry relish). For a current list of top zins, see Not your daddy's Zin; for the best and latest syrahs, see The state of Syrah.

But pinot noir remains the easiest yet most elegant match. Which pinots am I enjoying these days? From California: La Follette’s Tandems (he produces a stable of exotically spiced, cool climate Sonoma Coast pinots) are tops on my list, followed by Kathy Joseph’s irresistible Fiddleheads (she makes great ones sourced from both Oregon and Santa Barbara), Au Bon Climat, Failla, Hitching Post, Costa de Oro, Pey-Marin, Alma Rosa, Badge, d'Alfonso-Curran, Belle Glos, Melville, W.H. Smith, Patz & Hall, Flowers, Etude, Babcock, Pessagno, Campion, Lane Tanner, Papapietro-Perry, MacPhail, Small Vines, Porter-Bass, and Merry Edwards... so many great pinots, so little time!

From Oregon, my current favorite pinot noirs are those made by Penner-Ash and Seven Springs, although I’ve always liked Rex Hill, Foris, Cooper Mountain and King Estate for value and accessibility; Ken Wright, Soter or Brick House for sheer purity of pinot-ness; and Cristom, Maysara, Bergström, Beaux Frères, Chehalem and Domaine Serene for pure, unadulturated pinot power (in the refined, wild berryish Oregonian vein, of course).

Wine shoppers, start your engines – and enjoy the holidays!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Go Big or Go Home…

In 2007, the country of Italy produced 4 349 900 Liters of wine – that’s approximately 5.8 million bottles of wine. Now, a lot of that wine stays in the country as wine is a big part of an Italian’s day to day life, but a large number of those bottles are also exported to a wide variety of countries. So, on the first Monday of November over one hundred of those wineries packed themselves into the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto and laid out 477 of their best wines for those of us who work with wine to try and buy.

Now, I am sure you are looking at that number of wines and are thinking how can anyone get through 477 wines and still be standing? Well, it is impossible – what ends up happening is we simply pick and choose based on what we see in the tasting guide and who we see behind the tables in terms of importers. So, here are my picks for some, and definitely not all, of the great wines that were in the room that day.

Leone de Castris Salento IGT Donna Lisa Bianco 2008
$10.50 per bottle
Contact Philip (Philip@halpernwine.com) for ordering information
This wine is made from 100% Malvasia Bianca grapes, which is part of a family of grapes historically grown in the Mediterranean region of the world. In previous years it has been a blending of Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca but I have to say I like the fact that they kept it to a single varietal for the 2008 vintage because it made the wine slightly unique amongst the white wines there that day.

Lovely aromatics of tropical fruit and melon carry on to the palate where they join a slight nutty toffee flavour. There is a bit of spice on the lingering finish and, at this price, is definitely one of those wines that would make it a hit as an everyday with dinner kind of wine. Cheers,

Patria Soc Coop Sicilia IGT Viognier 2008
Contact falonzi@bridgecon.ca for ordering information
Although the grape Viognier is one that we do see a lot here in Canada, Viognier’s from Italy are definitely a new experience for us. This wine is very aromatic made up floral aromas with a touch of caramel. The palate has some minerality to it but also citrus, tropical fruit and floral components. To balance the wine off and give it a perfect finish, you will find a light touch of spice and crisp, clean acidity.

Cantine Salvalai Veneto IGT Pinot Grigio Salvalai 2008
$14.95 per bottle
Contact abcon@abconwine.com for ordering information
It would be easy to think not much of this wine based on the very subtle aromas coming out from the glass but give this one a chance…or a sip…and you will be pleasantly surprised. The primary aroma is that of grapefruit which does continue on to the palate but the flavours are mostly mineral with a touch of cream and that aforementioned grapefruit flavour. The real surprise to this wine is the Mandarin Orange finish and the amazing mouthfeel this wine has to it.

Vinicola Benanti Etna DOC Rosso di Verzella 2006
Contact info@frontierwine.ca for ordering information
A blending of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, this wine has great aromatics which consist of an earthy base but with a distinctive dried fruit, banana component. That distinctive banana component is also evident in the flavours where it joins and mingles with a lot of berry fruit. There’s only one word for this wine and that is YUM!

Vinicola Benanti Sicilia IGT Il Drappo 2004
Contact info@frontierwine.ca for ordering information
This wine is trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people – every time you sniff the wine you get something else. There is a major berry component to the aromas but there are also some spicy and vegetal notes to the nose. On the palate, this is a very fruit forward wine but there is a nice kick of spice in the back palate through to the finish and a good string of tannins weaving their way through the wine. Either way you want this – you could put it down for a few years if you want or open it up and enjoy it tonight.

Cecchi Umbria IGT Zitto Zitto 2008
$16.15 per bottle
Contact prodhon@selectwines.ca for ordering information
One of my friends who works for Select Wines filled me in on something as she was pouring me this wine – “Zitto Zitto” is Italian for “Quiet, Quiet”. So, with that in mind, what does this wine bring? The aromas to this wine are very subtle, almost restrained, but there is a distinctive floral component to them – mostly violets but a hint of iris as well. The flavours remind me of a smooth jazz number but one that is trying to break out and be a funky jazz piece. The distinctive kick of spice in the back palate and finish make this a very memorable wine. When I first heard what the title translated to I pictured a Grandma calling out to her grandchildren to be quiet and that is exactly what this wine is trying to be. I think if you were to give it a year or so, the Grandma would be losing the battle as her grandchildren would have become loud, boisterous teenagers.

Domodimonti Societa Agricola Marche IGT Il Messia 2006
$72.75 per bottle
Contact haddleton@selectwines.ca for ordering information
This wine is a blend of Montepulciano and Merlot and you can tell because this wine has a complex fruit nose which is a key characteristic of both of these grape varietals. Those fruity aromas continue on to the palate where you get tons of blackberry and licorice flavours but with a good string of silky tannins, some peppery notes and an occasional kick of plums. This wine tastes pretty good now but can you imagine what it will be like in 5-7 years? Pick some up now and try to hold on to it until 2015 or so.

Cantine Spinelli Malbec 2008
$7.95 per bottle
LCBO General List CSPC #143750
To say this wine is HUGE may be the biggest understatement I have made in a while. The wine is so dark it is inky black. The aromas are abundant – fruit, coffee, chocolate, cigar, cedar box…I could go on indefinitely. The palate is just as big as the aromas with jam, fruit, spice and all important tannins. This wine is screaming for food – I would say hearty meats would be the best pick for this big, definitely over the top, day ending wine. There are plenty of bottles available according to the LCBO’s website so pick up a couple of them and enjoy.

Hopefully you will enjoy some of these great Italian wines I found at the Italian tasting last Monday. However, if you happen to find an Italian wine that you absolutely love in your local wine shop, feel free to let us know here. There are just so many Italian wines out there that it is next to impossible to try all of them…

Are You Ready for a Trip to France…

Although I never received one of the formal invitations to this tasting – just a bunch of emails back and forth between friends – I was told by another friend when I arrived at the tasting that the theme of this particular wine tasting was “All Bordeaux Wines under $30”. When you hear something like that you can almost picture a wine snob sticking their nose up in the air and acting snooty. It is easy to do when you think about how there are a lot of French wines out there that are priced in the hundreds and thousands of dollars – per bottle. Even better than the price, out of the seven wines you will find below, five of them are available in your local LCBO stores. So, please, read on and enjoy these great wine finds that can fit into a myriad of budgets…

Premius Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc
$12.95 per bottle
LCBO General List. Contact Despina Triantos (despina@dionysuswines.ca) to find this wine easily at your local LCBO store.
This wine wins the award for the best value wine find for the day. This light, easy drinking, slightly fruity wine has great balance, could easily be drunk on its own or paired with a wide variety of dishes. A lovely combination of grapefruit and passion fruit in both the aromas and the flavours makes this a great wine to pair with seafood, chicken dishes or even a simple fruit salad.

Dourthe La Grande Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc
$15.95 per bottle
Vintages CSPC #159640
Just as lovely and pleasant as the previous Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is simple and uncomplicated. In my opinion, it is wines like these two that are perfect for any night of the week when you are not entertaining and you just want to enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner. Crisp and clean both in the aromas and the flavours – over abundant citrus, perfect balance of fruit and acidity and a lingering finish make this wine a perfect accompaniment to that dinner for two after a long day at work. Enjoy…

Thomas Barton 2006 Bordeaux
$16.95 per bottle
Please contact Ed Bajus (ebajus@chartonhobbs.com) for ordering information
This is one of two wines that are only available through Private Order and it is also one of two wines available from Thomas Barton. This particular wine is a 60/40 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon respectively and it has this intense dark colour – almost inky purple in nature. A very fruit forward nose of black fruit that continues on to the palate where it is joined by distinctive cedar notes. This wine is definitely not a powerhouse wine but there is something so nice and refreshing in the simplicity of the flavours and aromas and the amazing lasting finish this wine has to it.

Chateau des Laurets 2006 Puisseguin St Emilion
$19.90 per bottle
LCBO CSPC #371401
Bordeaux red wines are almost always a blending of a variety of grapes – typically Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Depending on the vintage and the producer, it can be just two of the above grapes or it could even include a couple of other red grapes not mentioned above. This particular wine is an 80/20 split of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and it is one of those wines that is constantly changing in the glass. When it comes to the aromas, sometimes you smell nothing and sometimes you get a very fruity aroma pouring out of the glass. It has a very BIG mouthfeel to the flavours – fruit, slight licorice and a kick of spice on the finish. There is a good string of tannins to this wine which means it has the ability to age nicely but could easily be drunk now if you are interested.

Chateau Roquetaillade La Grange Vieilles Vignes
$21.95 per bottle
Vintages CSPC #125666
This was probably one of the most interesting wines at the tasting today and the general consensus amongst the wine writers present was the fact that this wine had a small percentage of Petit Verdot in the wine. Tons of black fruit aromas with a slight intermingling of spice weaving through the wine, the palate is silky smooth and very fruit forward. There is a hint of tannins to the wine along with the addition of ginger and pepper that envelope into a long, lingering finish.

Chateau St-Andre Corbin 2006 Saint Georges St Emilion
$22.85 per bottle
Vintages CSPC # 43810
This is a classic Bordeaux blend that is heavy on the Merlot. It has a very fruit forward aroma to it but there are the added complexities of mint, licorice and a hint of menthol. The aromas continue on to the palate and there are still some medium strong tannins that indicate this wine could easily age for the next ten years or so but if you pair it with a hearty roast it could be drunk now. YUM!

Thomas Barton 2006 St Emilion
$24.40 per bottle
Please contact Ed Bajus (ebajus@chartonhobbs.com) for ordering information
The second Thomas Barton wine and the second order that you have to make a private order on but this wine is definitely worth making the order for. It is an 80/20 split of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and the colour is so amazing on it you could easily get lost in it. The aromas are mostly black fruit but when you get to the palate it kicks into full drive with the black fruit intermingling with cedar and spice notes. The wine is trying to be silky smooth but there is an elegant restraint to it that is preventing it from being overblown which is a refreshing change. The long, lingering finish on this wine makes it feel like it wants to go on for hours and hours.

So, hopefully with these wine reviews I have shown all of you that French wine does not necessarily have to be overpriced to be great. Many of the French Chateaus make really great, easy drinking white and red wines for under $30 a bottle so, the next time you are in your local wine shop, why not see what the French are offering up…


The REGIONE LOMBARIA is sponsoring three days of FREE wine tastings and seminars followed by a Fundraiser ($65) "Operatic Themed Piazza Italian Gala" at the Short Hills Mall from 9pm to Midnight on Friday, November 6th.

Lombary is the region in norther Italy, known for it's World Famous Fashion City of Milan and it's 'heady and strong' wines, noted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Lombardy is home to over fifty varieties of grapes that produce 62% red wine and 38% white wine. The region supports 14 D.O.C. and 5 D.O.C.G. wines. Amazingly 61% of the regions wines carry the D.O.C. symbol. The wines most known from the region include: Moscato di Stanzo; Valtellina Superiore; Sforzato di Valtellina and Franciacorta, a Sparkling wine.

The wines being showcased are available throughout New Jersey. The vineyards represented include a 'Who's Who' of Wines from Lombardy: Andrea Calvi; Borgo la Caccia; Cantina Marangona; Cantina Colli Morenici and Villa Bianzone, just to name a few.

Piazza Italia 2009 represents the 'spirit of the season' and will showcase 31 different wine varieties. The free tastings and seminars are led by Sommelier Michael A. Schaefer and Chef Enrico Bazzani. The wine knowledge you will gain through the aromas , flavors and education from the FREE mini-seminars will impress your friends forever.

The mini-seminars and tastings are Free of Charge, but must be RSVP'd by
calling (908) 212-7846 or sending an e-mail to: winesoflombardy@accentpr.com
(Daniela Puglielli is the contact person at Accent PR)

The FREE events include:
Wednesday, November 4th
3-5pm Paparazzi Restaurant in the Short Hills Mall..Wine Pairing and Sommelier's mini course

Thursday, November 5th
1-6pm Hilton Hotel....Bentley Room...1 Gateway Center...Newark..Tasting and Sommelier's course

Friday, November 6th
1-6pm La Reggia Restaurant 40 Wood Avenue...Secaucus... tasting and Sommeliers mini-course

Friday, November 6th
Piazza Italia Gala ($65) 9pm-Midnight...The Mall at Short Hills...The Gala includes food, drink and Operatic performances. Enter from the Nieman Marcus parking deck.

The WINES OF LOMBARDY event will educate all that attend about the wonderful wines from this region. Please remember to RSVP to attend the Free events...

Philip S. Kampe

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Green without tears: the wines of Organic Vintners™

Organic Vintners™ (organicvintners.com), based in Boulder, Colorado, carries a solid, internationally sourced book of 100% certified organically grown wines, no exceptions. That is to say, not even so-called “sustainable” wines, with their more nebulous (i.e. just theoretically “organic”) standards, make it into OV’s porfolio. For more on the differences between organic and sustainable viticulture, re War Between the Greens.

But there are other really cool things about their wines:

• Organic Vintners’ guaranteed quality standards are pretty darned good (keep in mind, these are not sloppy, funky unsulfured wines, but wines made from organically grown grapes). As someone who has been buying and selling wine professionally since 1978, I can say that their collection of imported and négociant style wines is as good or better as any others’.

• The bulk of their wines retail between $10 and $22; totally dispelling the myth that certified organically grown wines are more expensive.

• OV ships to your door in nineteen states (including within Colorado) plus D.C.

• If you’re a vegan, OV is for you because they go through the effort to make sure that almost all of their wines are fined or filtered without the use of any animal product.

• If you are sensitive to sulfites, it’s good to know that standards for wines made from organic grapes specify that added sulfur does not exceed 100 parts per million (note: at least a little added sulfur is necessary to stabilize wines of dependable quality).

Enough of that, let’s talk about the wines; in order of my favorites (with approximate retail prices, which will vary among markets), and all qualifying as vegan:


Organic Vintners, Pinot Noir 2007 (Mendocino, California; $22) – Even at $22, this is a steal; a pinot of fresh, lovely varietal purity, expressing kirsch-like black cherry fruitiness in the nose, with suggestions of strawberry and fresh plucked sprigs of peppermint. On the palate, neither big nor light-weight; but rather, velvety smooth in a light-medium body, amplified by juicy, spiced berry flavors, unimpeded by soft tannin.

Château de Bastet, Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Spéciale 2007 (France; $23) – You’ll find a number of $12-$16 Côtes du Rhônes on the market these days; but as pricey as the Château de Bastet may seem by comparison, this is an exuberantly rich, perfectly rounded, certified Biodynamic® estate bottling, with an elevated sense of terroir: namely, the mix of pepper spiced strawberry, floral/violet and distinctly smoky qualities (despite the unoaked élevage of this 50/50 syrah/grenache blend), wrapped in a round medium body, neither light nor heavy in its earthen berry flavor.

Nuovo Mundo, Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2008 (Maipo Valley, Chile; $17) - A purplish ruby colored 50/50 varietal blend, showing the qualities and characteristics of both grapes: the blackberry/toffee-like density of the malbec on top of the dried berry as well as leafy green, chamomile tea-like complexity of cabernet. On the palate, the wine is medium-full and thickened by rounded tannin, without tasting heavy; the leafy notes taking on earthy, mulchy qualities, and the blackberry flavors turning cassis-like towards a medium intense finish.

Almagre, Tempranillo 2007 (Rioja, Spain; $16) – The joy of many of Spain’s reds made from the native tempranillo grape (this bottling blended with 10% mazuelo, a.k.a. cariñena) is its deep, multifaceted, yet consistently smooth, balanced character. Here, a bright, fragrant berry aroma (raspberry/strawberryish) is tinged with earthy, brown kitchen spices (suggesting cardamom, allspice and vanilla bean). The spiced berry qualities are soft and round on the palate, finishing with a flavorful ease.

Can Vendrell, Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo 2006 (Penedès, Spain; $15) – After an initial whiff of sulfides (which volatilize fairly quickly with swirling in a large glass or decanter), a handsome nose of blackcurrant/cassis-like berries and tobacco-like smoke predominates in the nose; the wine’s medium weight body buoyed by a nice balance of silken texture, soft underlying tannin, and fresh, zesty edge.

Ventura, Malbec 2007 (Lontué Valley, Chile; $10) – You won’t find a lot of Chilean malbecs around; nor any from anywhere at this ridiculous price. But forget the bargain fare, because this wine stands up just fine as a malbec of any class, with its plump, fleshy, well ripened, sweet blackberryish fruit; its medium-full body grounded by firming medium tannin and the caramelized, meaty qualities of the fruit on the palate.

Pircas Negras, Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Famatina Valley, Argentina; $12) – This is a soft, slightly fat style of cabernet sauvignon, but well within scale: its moderately intense mix of red berry and black licorice flavors having a clean, honest, unfettered sense of immediacy – plenty enough to fill an easy textured medium body.

Giol, Merlot 2008 (Veneto, Italy; $17) – If you’re into the fruit-forward qualities of merlot, here’s a screwcapped bottling of organic/vegan lineage: bright red cherry aroma encased in soft leather and scrubby, dried herb bunch notes; the zesty fruit and easy tannin/body tinged with tobacco-like qualities on the palate.


Pircas Negras, Torrontés 2009 (Famatina Valley, Argentina; $12) – Torrontés makes such effortlessly flavorful wines, its reputation as an obscure, second-fiddle member of Vitis vinifera (the European family of ultra-premium grapes) seems almost absurd. Everything you want in a white wine is here: a fine balance, and intense complexity of fragrances, and a mouth-watering fruitiness underlined by zingy acidity. In this case, a floral, tropical nose suggesting tropical flowers, lemon-lime freshness, floral Asian spice, and hazelnut-like tones; followed by a lithe, airy, lightly tart, easy body lifting the barely off-dry fruitiness (just whispers of sweetness), which finish with a gingery, white pepper-like spiciness.

Giol, Pinot Grigio 2008 (Veneto, Italy; $17) – Classic perfumes of lavender, citrus and stone fruit (nectarine/apricot) in the nose, and properly light, smooth, lemony dry, crisp edged and balanced on the palate.

Ventura, Chardonnay 2009 (Lontué Valley, Chile; $10) – A tropical fruit aroma is at first pineappley, and then suggestive of mango, peach, and white flowers. So if there ever was a backyard/hammock-appropriate chardonnay, this would be it (or a way of enjoying a bottled fragrance of summer in the winter). Dry and light-medium bodied; the tropical fruit qualities moderately crisp, fresh, and lively.

Nuevo Mundo, Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009 (Maipo Valley, Chile; $16) – Floral, perfumed nose of violet and grapefruit, with a leafy green herbiness peeking out from underneath; extra-dry, light, lemony tart edged varietal qualities on the palate.

Napa, Napa and more Napa…

Last week there was not one, not two but three Napa tastings – in the space of two days. How lucky can a wine lover get? Now, on a previous blog, a friend had commented that my tastes tend to run towards wines that fit into the category of “BIG AND BOLD” so as I walked into the first tasting – the trade tasting held at the ROM that Monday afternoon – I had a bit of a mission in mind. I wanted to find wines that had great structure, great flavours but not in a big, over the top manner. Now, when it comes to Napa Valley, a favourite saying is “Cab is King” and it is a very accurate saying. At this tasting there were more than 70 Cabernet Sauvignon’s or blends containing Cabernet with several tables devoted solely to the Granddaddy of red grapes.

Now, on the second day of Napa tastings, in the Queen West area of Toronto, iYellow Wine Club was holding their own version of Napa – NIGHTLIFE NAPA! As we climbed the stairs from the street, you could feel the excitement in the air, hear the music coming from the main room and the hustle and bustle of activity was swirling in front of us. The wines that were at this tasting were the same as at the previous day’s tastings but there is just a little something extra when you come into an iYellow event and you can feel it. Ange and her team know how to throw a party and this party was celebrating all things Napa!

So, what wines did I find that fit my criteria of being aromatic and flavourful but not over the top? Despite the fact that most of Napa Valley is planted to red grapes, they do try to balance it out with a few “staple” white grapes. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the usual suspects and, thankfully, some of the wineries were sure to bring some of their better whites to share with us these two days. Read on to find out about my discoveries…

Grgich Hills 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay
$62.20 per bottle
Available through LCBO – Vintages, CSPC # 346304
Quite possibly the top white wine in the room, the aromas and flavours on this wine are nothing but stellar. Made in the same style since the winery opened in 1977, this wine does not go through malolactic (secondary) fermentation at all and this allows the floral and fruity notes of this wine to come through clearly. Aromas of honey, roasted and tropical fruit with just a slight hint of toffee prevail while the flavours are lovely and complex. More roasted fruit, a hint of caramel, slight spice in the finish and an abundance of citrus and tropical fruit greet you with every sip of this wine.

Cliff Lede Vineyards 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
$22 USD per bottle
Contact Jennifer Desmond (Jennifer@cliffledevineyards.com) for ordering information
Sauvignon Blanc can be described in just about as many ways as it can be made. This particular Sauvignon Blanc has such a wide array of aromas and flavours that just about every time you sniff and taste what is in your glass you will find something new and exciting about this wine. The list of aromas includes lime, floral, passion fruit, herbal, citrus, pepper, berry fruit and nuts…and that’s just to start. Half of these aromas are not even regular components of a typical Sauvignon Blanc but, then again, this wine is far from typical. The great thing is that, although all of these aromas can be detected, none of them are there in an overpowering manner. Although some are slightly stronger than other aromas, they all “play nicely” with each other so that they do not turn you off the wine before you have had a chance to taste it. Now, as for the flavours, they are just as varied as the aromas – lemon meringue, honeysuckle, brioche, tropical fruit and a touch of honey with a slight oily texture and an interesting kick of wild flowers on the finish. Now, I did mention “a slight oily texture” but I do not want you to be concerned. There are a lot of wines out there that will have a slight oily texture to them but it is not like someone accidentally spilled some vegetable or olive oil into your glass of wine. An oily texture – as long as it is not overpowering – gives wine a medium texture and more substance to a wine that could easily be very light without much to it. In the case of this wine, it gives this Sauvignon Blanc perfect balance and an interesting mouthfeel to it.

Clos du Val 2007 Los Carneros Chardonnay
$24 USD per bottle
Contact rita@freehousewine.com for ordering information
Los Carneros is a unique wine region in California – it is the only wine region in California that spans both Sonoma and Napa Valleys, along the south end of both valleys. The region itself is located north of San Pablo Bay, which is the up at the north end of San Francisco Bay. Being this close to water makes the Los Carneros region slightly cooler than Sonoma and Napa Valley which are actually located further north. Consequently, this region is perfect for cool climate grapes and it is a region where Chardonnay absolutely excels.

The aromatics on this wine are very pleasant – a combination of citrus and stone fruit (pear, peach, etc) with just the slightest whiff of honey. The citrus aromas carry on to the palate where it is joined by even more fruit – tropical, melon and apple – with just a touch of vanilla and cream flavours. A really great Chardonnay is one that has the perfect balance of fruit, oak and acidity and this one definitely does – it is SEAMLESS and it has a long, crisp finish.

John Anthony Wines 2008 Carneros Sauvignon Blanc
$19 USD per bottle
Contact john@javwine.com for ordering information
Sauvignon Blanc is a grape that, in theory, works very well in the cool climate of the Los Carneros region of California but is still a relative unknown for the most part when it comes to California wines we get in Canada. What I found with this Sauvignon Blanc is that there is a distinct herbal aroma and flavour to this wine that is definitely not part of a typical Sauvignon Blanc from other wine regions in the world. Alongside the herbal aroma, which is thankfully light as it could overpower the wine easily, was a distinctive roasted pineapple and melon aroma. Both of those aromas continue on to the flavours where they join the herbal quality again with lemon, a faint hint of honey and this beautiful crisp, clean acidity which is so welcoming in Sauvignon Blanc.

John Anthony Wines 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
$21 USD per bottle
Contact john@javwine.com for ordering information
Another wine knocked out of the park from John Anthony Wines. The grapes for this wine come from their Napa Valley vineyard and on the very first sip, I could tell that this was a wine with some real finesse. A mostly floral and fruity aroma but not an overpowering one while the palate packs a punch. It would be very easy to think that, based on the aromas, there was going to be nothing to this wine but that could not be further from the truth. The flavours are mostly citrus and tropical fruit with perfect acidity and balance.

Now, it was not all white wines grabbing my attention at these two tastings – there were some amazing red wines too. A couple of Pinot Noirs, a Syrah, a red blend and a great Cabernet Sauvignon to end the tasting out with.

Clos du Val 2007 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
$30 USD per bottle
Contact rita@freehousewine.com for ordering information
Classic cool climate Pinot Noir – berries, cherries, spice and vanilla in both the aromas and the flavours. This wine has next to no tannins, is ready to drink now and comes from one of the best vintages that North American winemaking regions have experienced in years.

Cuvaison Estate Wines 2007 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
$32 USD per bottle
Contact Prevedello & Mathews (http://www.pmwine.com) for ordering information
This wine is a bit deceiving. The colour of it would make you think you are about to taste a Cabernet or maybe a Baco Noir from Ontario but both the aromas and the flavours tell you it is definitely Pinot Noir. Aromas of cherries and other red fruit with just a slight whiff of cinnamon while the flavours remind me of a blend of cherry, vanilla, some other berry fruits and then this light but distinctive kick of Coca Cola. The tannins are lush and velvety, there is this toasty backbone to this wine that makes it a great overall package. Definitely a wine to be tried.

Frias Family Vineyard 2006 Syrah
$40 per bottle
Contact dan.barrett@rogers.com for ordering information
A lot of the Syrah’s I have found from California tend to have more finesse and subtleties than Australian Shiraz do and this particular Syrah fits that description very aptly. The aromas are fruity and chocolate but almost to the point that they are a whisper of aromas than actually being there. More like a distant memory than being in the here and now. The flavours are just the same – silky smooth, a bit of spice mingles in with fruit and light jam at the midpoint in the palate and the tannins are so faint that you can barely detect them.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 2004 Elivette
$125 USD per bottle
Contact bbostwick@springmtn.com for ordering information
This is a traditional Bordeaux Blend style of wine containing 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. The aromas are mostly fruity with a combination of raisins, currants, cooked fruit and other black fruit mingling together but there is so much more to this fragrant wine. The flavours are this perfect balance of chocolate, black fruit, vanilla, cedar, floral and herbs. There is a slight vegetal quality to it but it is very faint. I do believe that the 9% Petit Verdot is what is bringing such great complexity to this wine as, here in Canada, when we make a Bordeaux blend, we normally do not have any Petit Verdot around to blend in.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 1987 Rare Wine Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
$125 USD per bottle
Contact bbostwick@springmtn.com for ordering information
Now, this is a wine to end an evening with! Probably the oldest wine in the room at Monday’s tasting, this actually has 6% Cabernet Franc blended into the Cabernet Sauvignon to give it a little more complexity. A hint of licorice and cassis up front opens up to further aromas of black cherry, black berry and plum. The flavours are repeats of the aromas with the additions of caramel, coffee and potpourri in this beautiful, long, silky smooth palate. This wine is already 22 years old and, I have to admit, is probably the oldest table wine I have ever tasted. It is in its prime and is definitely ready to drink now.

Although the Napa tastings are done, never fear, because the iYellow Wine Club with their amazing events are here to stay. Check out http://www.iyellowwineclub.com for upcoming special events, tours and tastings.

How Hungarian Cabernet Franc Changed My Life by Philip S. Kampe

My Dad was known to his friends as ‘Cab Franc.’ You see, his name was really Joseph and all of his social time with visiting frien...